Saturday, June 17, 2006

(D) June 11, 2006 - Evolving Horizon

Pix Source: The Star

THE sun rose on the choreographic horizon and turned the sky fresh-blood red. That was new hope painted by the young dancers and choreographers of the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Kwang Tung Association Youth Section’s dance troupe in Evolving Horizon. For the past seven years, the troupe has organised an annual showcase series, titled Kua Bu (taking the leap forward) for its student dancers to perform and learn to produce shows.

This year, the troupe took the leap towards a professional production in a proper theatre setting.

Evolving Horizon, staged in Kuala Lumpur early June, featured works by six young choreographers. Of these, three showed great potential, namely Love in 4.28 by Tin Tan, Walk Out by Samantha Chong, and Passages by Faith Toh.

In Love in 4.28, dancers dressed as clownish waitresses were slaves to time. Like clockwork, they struck a pose at the end of each dance phrase. There was also a brilliant touch of humour as dancers reacted to music that sounded like it came from a scratched record. The notion of “love”, however, was less evident and only revealed itself vaguely in the tango scenes.

Sign language, the mode of communication used by the deaf, literally echoed through Walk Out. It successfully evoked feelings of immense emotional pain and lured the audience into the psyche of a person trapped by circumstances.

Underneath the soothing strains of string and voice lurked a deep sense of loss. Then, as the music became more vigorous, the dancers doubled their speed – sometimes in unison, and sometimes one after another – creating diagonal and triangular formations. Release!, Let go!, and Walk out! were what they intended to do in the latter part of the dance as they pulled their hair upwards to “over-extend” their bodies. They finally ended with a decisive clasping of hands.

Passages, which looked at man’s evolution, was also reflective of karma. Three dancers in diagonal position - one standing, one bending forward and one kneeling – formed a plane that rose on the left and dropped on the right.

The dancer on centre stage moved like an animal - she bent forward, almost on all fours. As though watching a scene from Animal Planet, I relished the graceful vertebrae-by-vertebrae movements. Evolving from animal to man, the second dancer took bigger steps and larger, sweeping movements whilst the third, standing upright, travelled across and around the stage.

It seemed like they had regressed from man to animal when, with backs bent towards us, the dancers flopped forward and shook their butts like birds ruffling their feathers after the rain. The “birds” then frolicked with a huge rubber ball but quickly abandoned it before taking flight in single-file migratory position.

Though I would have preferred a less jittery ending, the dancers, with their backs towards each other, shook their bodies repeatedly as they moved in circles until the lights blacked out. Thus is the passage of life, being born and reborn, and who knows what next?

Teresa Chian’s Two Pages for Kim differed from the other works in the showcase. This short piece featured a solo (performed by Chian herself) and used only the confines of a space encircled by lit candles placed on the floor. The movement vocabulary was primarily defined by the tugging of an invisible rope from both directions. I wondered if she was using ropes to turn two gigantic pages.

Busy. Rest by Louise Yow managed to create a busy environment on stage. The dancers moved in one direction but were rudely pushed by some invisible brute force that set them on the opposite path. There was a clear sequence of movement that was subsequently repeated in whole or in part. The soundscape alternated between music and silence, hence “busy” and “rest”. But the piece fell short of a balance between those two elements, as there was no “rest” for the body.

Behind by Chin Kah Voon and Mak Foong Ming lagged behind the other works, conceptually. It is great to be able to stitch together a series of movements but the choreography also needs to express something. What the pair aimed to say did not resonate clearly.

Dancers in this showcase comprised the above-mentioned choreographers, as well as Tan Bee Hung, Foong Siew Ching, and Kho Chin Aun. All of them proved to be competent dancers who certainly have the potential to improve.

It certainly looks like the Kwang Tung dance troupe’s efforts in training the younger generation are paying off.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

(D) May 19, 2006 - Babel

Pix source: The Star

Babel, a full-length contemporary hip hop performance, kicked off the week-long French Art Festival 2006 last weekend. The tri-culture (French-Malaysian-Chinese) full-length work, conceptualised by Najib Guerfi, sought to find a common language in dance.

I must admit that I went to the Istana Budaya with some reservation, having endured an awful performance (Recital by Compagnie Kafig) of the same genre at the American Dance Festival last year.

Thankfully, my fears were dispelled with the first flick of Guerfi's head (he was also dancing). Something good had come out of this collaborative attempt. The French (Guerfi and Lyliane Gauthier), Malaysian (Umesh Shetty and Elaine Pedley) and Chinese (Wang Tao and Cao Peizhong) dancers took to the stage to introduce their respective movement vocabularies.

Then Guerfi broke into a “windmill” (body on the ground and legs spinning in circle in the air) while Wang and Cao spun in continuous “butterfly kicks” (Wushu-influenced backward kick with one leg flying up, immediately followed by the other).

Quickly, the dancers re-grouped and moved in circular movements – their first common ground. Arms extended and curved at shoulder level; sometimes, arms whipping to define turns, or waving above the head, directing the body to bend.

Babel tells of man’s evil ways and, as a result, his impending doom. Using expression, the most basic of body language, the dancers affirmed that we are evil by grinning like the Joker (one of the bad guys in Batman) on and off throughout the repertoire.

When the three-tiered metal scaffolding, representing the Tower of Babel, arose on stage, the dancers rushed toward it and started climbing. Swinging and swaying precariously, they revealed moments akin to an audition for Cirque du Soleil.

Audition over, they moved to position standing in three tiers forming an inverted pyramid, and danced in unison. That was a brief visual delight before the “tower” sank and the dancers tumbled back on stage.

Pix source: The Star

Picking themselves up, they started to run in a slow and restrained manner. Like marionettes (directed and expressionless) controlled by the puppet master, they attempted “popping” and “locking” (robot-like movements) in a group.

Heavy drum beats heralded fight scenes in which group interaction and kungfu duels were central. But unlike the “challenge”, common in hip hop repertoire, the confusing duels resembled Capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art).

The music, specially composed by Gregory Guillemin for Babel, was an excellent Western-Chinese-Indian fusion piece. In a passage that was clearly Chinese, a melodic flute played against the steady rhythm resonating from a string instrument. Four solos were featured to this music.

Under a spotlight on the dimmed stage, Gauthier fluttered uncertainly and lazily like a butterfly discovering her wings. Pedley playfully showed off a headstand and froze in various inverted positions. However, when she rendered her bit of Odissi (an Indian dance ), it was obvious that her movements were not as and masterful as Shetty’s.

Tempo, another common ground in dance, was more obvious in Shetty’s and Guerfi’s solos. Guerfi’s arm wave (arms rippling like waves) and isolation of various body parts were performed slowly and steadily to the steady rhythm of the haunting Chinese music. Body part after body part appeared and disappeared on the darkened stage, creating an illusion that a row of lights and shadow were streaming across his stationary body. Shetty, sure and precise, took an off-beat approach in his contemporary Odissi solo. He burst into movement when you least expected it and left you begging for more.

Finally, the last common ground was how the three dances used varying heights in their approach to movements: the breakdance featured “drop down” sequences; Wushu had bended knees, and the Odissi, squats.

Babel as an intercultural contemporary hip hop package is funky, cool and engaging. Although it had a limited range of breakdance moves, the amount of hip hop was just right. And the incorporation of Chinese and Indian movement vocabularies was done smoothly and tastefully.

Merveilleux! Babel has taken street culture and made it art.